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Do Not Just Raise Awareness When Changing Behaviors is the Real Solution

By Denver White, Director Corporate Learning, United Nations Federal Credit Union (UNFCU)

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Denver White, Director Corporate Learning, United Nations Federal Credit Union (UNFCU)

At some point, probably many times, you attended a class only to later realize nothing is different in your workday. While you grasped what the instructor said, you are a creature of habit, reverting to your routine. Such classeswork well for compliance courses intended to lower organizational risk by covering required areas.They are not as effective for changing how learners complete tasks.

For that, it takes time and knowledge to design serious, habit-changing behavioralcourses.At the United Nations Federal Credit Union (UNFCU), weoffer both types of classes. The efforts of our Learning & Development (L&D) team focus on creatingeffective programsthat contain both behavior and awareness elements.

Though behavior-targeted instruction is much more effective in making a change among its attendees, it is also intense and time consuming. If all employee development aimed at changing behaviors, this would leave little time for employees to do their jobs. Because of this,behavior-focused learning can only be part of an organization’s L&D curriculum.

Behavior training does not mean awareness training should be less impressive – far from it! For awareness training, we continue to innovate by working more as learning consultants. We also advocate for non-traditional methods that go beyond just attending or watching a course. This includes going to conferences, posting online, or becoming involved in discussions on industry sites.

What sets behavior-based learning apart?                              

You may already be using some of the techniques used for effective behavior-targeted learning in your organization. To change behaviors, learners must understand concepts of the change. They also must try the new techniques, practicing them to gain facility and comfort. If the skills are people-based, this means kinesthetic learning in a live setting with real people. For systems or tech skills instruction, this means a chance for hands-on learning. For both, the learners must have a chance to make mistakes and learn from those missteps. This is preferably with guidance from an expert. Small groups, interactive games, and scenarios that recreate the real member environment are all superb. Interactivity is a proven way for learning new behaviors. It is also the easy part. The hard part is reinforcement.

It is easy to discuss reinforcement in theory, yet much trickier in practice. We are all creatures of habit. Those habits have helped us in our lives and careers. We have worked hard to create, refine, and improve those habits. Behavior-targeted learning asks us to tear all that down and build a new habit. It is not an impossible task, but highly unlikely to succeed if learning is limited to one short session. To build a new habit, we have to practice.

"Observation, assessment, and coaching are effective ways to reinforce behavior-based learning. Such an approach can further the effectiveness of any organization’s strategic plan"

At UNFCU, we are smoothing the path to creating new behaviorsthrough observations, guided assessments, and ongoing coaching. Behavior-based learning starts when a learner leaves the classroom. It requires an environment where staff can practice without a negative impact. Having a trained observer who knows what to look for and offerslots of encouragement is another priority. In a perfect world, a series of follow-up sessionsround out a course of effective behavioral change.

When we provide the environment that allows learners to practice, we lay the groundwork to start building a new habit. It helps when an observer, armed with consistent measurement and assessment tools, can coach and assist in the learning process. Your organization can enhance the experience by providing coaching at regular intervals with positive and direct feedback. In this way, you can move staff closer to the goal of changing. When we provide follow-up workshops to share successes and discuss challenges, our learners will actually find closure in changing old habits. Staff can then move successfully towards a new way of completing their work to effect positive change.

Scenarios that change behaviors in the real world

Given the time commitment of behavior programs, I suggest developing them based on business needs. Here are a few examples to consider:

1. New upgrades to a coresystem made shortcuts possible. Staff trained on this change have shortened member response time by up to 30 minutes.

This is a good example of a behavior-targeted learning opportunity. It will take time to train employees and have managers observe using standard guidelines. To maximize learning, it will be best to also schedule practice sessions and conduct follow-ups.

Yet,when we can respond to member inquiries more quickly, the time spent learning the change was worth the investment.

2. New National Credit Union Administration, NCUA, changes have created additional steps for some of our internal procedures. By law, ALL staff must be notified of the change, regardless of their role.

For the majority of staff, this is a mandatory awareness training. For most employees, a basic presentation to raise their awareness of the changes is sufficient. As a best practice, end withan assessment or quiz to guarantee staff has grasped the information.

A behavior-targeted learning session is more appropriate forinternal compliance staff and any employees who use the procedure. As subject matter experts, they must routinely review, audit, or complete tasks related to this topic. The time and resources devoted to changing the internal procedures are not for cost savings, but for NCUA compliance.

How to choose the right approach

How do you decide if a learning event requires multiple sessions, follow-ups, dedicated observers, reinforcement, or consistent measurement tools?When is a single instructor-led session sufficient? Consider what you want the outcome to be.

Many times, L&D will receive a request about an identified problem. It is up to the learning professionals to ask what exactly is the requestor hoping to achieve and why.

If changing a sagging Key Performance Indicator (KPI)is your goal,a behavioral change may be just the right approach. This is also true if your organization wants to reduce the odds of a potentially disastrous risk. In both scenarios, the requestor must be willing to invest the time.

If a department wants everyone to know that an information security policy has changed, a well-executed awareness training should be sufficient. Consider the impact and the cost associated with both awareness-raising and behavior-changing solutions.

At UNFCU, our mission is to serve the people who serve the world, As a result,behavior-based learning has become integral to our organizational strategy.Where we see value in changing a behavior,we invest time and resources in behavior training. We also make improvements to the quality, usability, and self-discovery learning of our other courses, particularly our online courses. All this helps in our commitment to providing members with financial peace of mind so they can focus on work that’s changing the world.

The importance of your epilogue

When I was a kid in the 1980s, TV shows would often return after the final commercial with a scene titled “Epilogue.” Epilogues are a neat storytelling concept. They tie up the loose ends of the story by wrapping a nice bow around a summary of the plot’s conclusion. This provides satisfying closure. To succeed where awareness-based instruction cannot, a behavior-based course needs its own epilogue in the form of follow-up activities.

For a given topic, it is important to choose whether a basic awareness or a behavior-based training is the right fit. Observation, assessment, and coaching are effective ways to reinforce behavior-based learning. Such an approach can further the effectiveness of any organization’s strategic plan.

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